First Ride: The all-new Trek Madone

We give our first impressions of the all-new Trek Madone and an expanded Domane line

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FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (VN) — We first spotted the all-new Trek Madone 7 three weeks ago at the Critérium du Dauphiné, but it was not until Wednesday that we were finally able to gather complete details and get a ride on Trek’s first-ever aero road frame.

As we surmised in early June, the new Madone has followed the trend set by both the Scott Foil and Specialized Venge towards more versatile aero road bikes, and away from the ultra-narrow tube shapes (and resultant loss in ride quality and stiffness) that were the trademark of aero just a few years ago.

Peel back the shield of marketing jabber — the usual talk of free watts and unrivaled stiffness — and you’re left with what is unquestionably Trek’s boldest offering for some time, following nearly a decade of solid and dependable but mostly uninspiring Madone models. To put it simply, Trek has upped the ante in the aero road segment, pushing forward with innovative new technology both within the frame itself, and with the parts that hang from it.

Where’s the brake?

Headlining the radical new frame is a typically uneventful component — the brakes. Working in conjunction with Shimano, Trek has designed an entirely new two-bolt brake mount standard, and has moved the rear brake of the new Madone away from the seat stays and to the bottom bracket. The front brake is integrated into the fork shape, creating ultra-clean lines and, according to Trek, an exceptionally fast frame.

New Madone models will be offered with a Bontrager designed and built brake, or the new Dua-Ace 9000 aero brake, depending on the model. No other brakes currently on the market will fit on the new Madone, including the two-bolt brake options from TRP.

Both the Shimano and Bontrager options are lighter than a standard road brake, Trek says, because nearly 30 percent of the parts necessary for a single-bolt brake can be removed by switching to a two-bolt option. The Bontrager brake can be set for either Shimano or Campangolo cable pull, too, so Campy fans need not worry about compatibility issues.

The front brake has a quick release on the brake itself, while the rear has a similar on/off-style release set into the cable housing as it enters the head tube. This quick release has a micro-adjust barrel as well. The switch is simple — simpler, in fact, than releasing the rear brake quick release on a standard road bike.

The primary concern with the new brakes, or more specifically their placement, is the mass of road goo that usually ends up solidified to the bottom bracket. While the rear wheel rotation won’t send much dirt into the BB area, the front wheel sends a constant spray towards it when riding in the wet. In response to this potential issue, Trek merely noted that staff have tested the bike through entire Wisconsin winters without issue. Without more time on the bike, we’ll just have to take them on their word.

Frame tech

The frame shapes used are not exactly innovative now, as Trek introduced the Kamm Virtual Foil (KVF) on the Speed Concept two years ago. Trek uses KVF tubes throughout the frame — downtube, head tube, seat stays and fork all received the treatment — and the cut-off aerodynamic profiles generate low drag figures normally associated with much longer, narrower tube shapes. That usually means wider tubes with the same low drag, resulting in more stiffness, lower weight, and better ride quality. Wider tubes also allow for thinner tube walls, which make a frame more lively. It’s a formula used with great success by Scott on its Foil aero road frame, and proven once again with the new Madone. But more on that first ride further down the page.

Trek hasn’t gone all-out aero in a few places, actually. The cable routing remains on the front of the head tube/downtube junction, rather than integrating in behind the stem as with the Cervélo S5. This is more user friendly, perhaps, but undoubtedly slower against the wind.

Trek claims the new Madone saves 330 grams of drag at 40 kph over an old Madone, or somewhere around 25-30 watts. As usual, we won’t comment on such figures until we can do our own VeloLab testing — but even half the claimed savings would be impressive.

As with the previous Madone, Trek has stuck with the BB90 bottom bracket standard, uses a tapered head tube, and will offer two head tube height options for the 6- and 7-series models (H1 is shorter and more aggressive, while H2 is longer and aimed more at comfort). The 5-series and 2-series will only be available with the taller H2 head tube option. The ANT+ compatible DuoTrap sensors remain, providing cadence and speed to any ANT+ head unit, and Trek has added improved electronic drivetrain compatibility for Di2 and EPS and a nifty adjustable chain catcher to the mix as well.

The 7-series model comes in at a rather impressive claimed weight of 750 grams for the frame, about 150 grams lighter than the previous Madone, partially thanks to a brand new paint Trek calls U5 Vapor Coat. The entire paint job, the company claims, adds less than five grams of weight to the package. How exactly that works, we honestly have no idea. But it certainly allows Trek to hit much lower frame weight figures than it would otherwise — a normal paint job will weigh upwards of 80 grams, usually well over 100.

The 7-series also uses an exclusive, defense-grade carbon fiber, according to Trek, which it says can only be manufactured in the U.S. Trek also builds the 6-series frames stateside. The 5-series frames, which are manufactured overseas, use a more standard carbon layup.

The new Madone design will filter across the all-new 7-series, the 6-series, and the 5-series frames. The 4-, 3- and 2-series don’t get the integrated brakes or KVF tube shapes — they are an entirely different bike, really.

First ride

As always, I’ll preface this section with a warning that one ride doth not settle anything, with new-to-me wheels, tires, saddle, and an imperfect position setup all affecting the ride. Nonetheless, one ride is enough to pick out the stinkers, and, usually, the diamonds.

My first impression is that the new Madone seems to be the latter. The front end is incredibly stiff — stiffer than the Foil, my aero-road stiffness benchmark, and miles ahead of narrow frames like the S5. BB stiffness is as good as any top-end road frame, but didn’t blow me away. Handling is identical to the old Madone, which is not exactly surprising since the geometry is virtually identical. In short, it’s excellent.

The brakes were the big question mark before our ride through the steep, rolling hills outside of Stavelot, Belgium. I rode a 6-series frame with the Bontrager brakes, using Bontrager’s new Aeolus 3 D3 carbon clinchers and Bontrager’s own cork brake pads. I have thousands of miles on the Aeolus 5, which uses the same brake track, so I know how these wheels perform with standard brakes. The new brakes on the Madone feel quite similar to the new SRAM Red brakes on my bike at home.

Modulation and power are both excellent. Power was particularly impressive, since this specific wheel/brake pad combination is not usually very powerful. Braking felt well controlled and predictable, exactly as you would hope.

Lever feel leaves a bit to be desired, though this seems to be more an issue with cable routing than the brakes themselves. The rear brake in particular feels a bit grainier than a brand new brake and cable set should — hardly noticeable unless you’re paying attention to it, but the issue is certainly there. Trek admitted that this is an area they are working on.

Long story short: the unique brakes don’t harm performance. We can’t comment on long-term durability, though, at least not until we get a model in to test later in the summer.

A more complete Domane line

Trek this week also announced the expansion of its Domane line, introduced during the classics this year. The endurance frame, complete with ISOSpeed suspension, will be available in 5-, 4-, and 2-series build packages. The 5-series uses identical molds to the 6-series with a slightly heavier carbon layup, while the 4- and 2-series models are redesigned models. All will be available in mid-August.

Editor’s Note: This story initially reported that Trek is building 6-series Madones overseas. Trek builds the 6-series frames in the United States. We regret the error.

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